A Ugandan is the grand prize winner of the Africa Rural Connect contest organized last year by the National Peace Corps Association to solicit ideas on ways to improve the lives of rural farmers in Africa.
Johnstone Baguma is founder and executive director of Toro Development Network, a community-based, non-governmental organization that promotes access to, and strategic use of, information communication technologies for development in western Uganda.
Baguma’s idea focused on strengthening the capacity of small-scale rural maize farmers, particularly on production for urban markets.
He told VOA his organization is grateful for the award which, he notes, will go a long way in helping farmers in western Uganda who, he said, have been exploited for a long time.
“As Toro Development Network, we are planning to continue with this project, especially hoping that farmers who are mainly involved in maize growing, how we can help them improve on their production, how they can be able to market their produce because they have been heavily exploited,” he said.
Baguma also hopes the $12,000 prize will enable his organization to further assist rural farmers manage their post-harvest losses, as well as connect them to prospective urban buyers.
He said his organization wants to use basic communication tools, such as mobile phones, to support rural development.
“We realize that, because of the lack of communication, there is a lot of lagging behind, especially in the agro-business sector, looking at issues of how production can be increased, looking at issues of marketing, farmers were being exploited because they couldn’t know different prices in different areas. So, we mainly focus on how we can promote (the) use of basic communication tools for these farmers. For example, we’re looking at mobile phones to be able to connect with different prospective buyers,” Baguma said.
Baguma said the Toro Development Network is also looking at the use of local FM radio stations in the region to help farmers share knowledge about production and how to market their produce.
He said his project is targeting maize farmers because the maize crop has a multiplier effect.
“The maize crop is a staple food in this region. By the same token, the maize crop is a cash crop. Farmers can actually be able to sell and expand on their income. So, we are looking at food security; we are also looking at expanding the economic status of our farmers,” he said.
Baguma said he hopes international development organizations would emulate the approach of the National Peace Corps Association by asking for local public input before formulating any development strategy.
“That is very important; allow the people in the communities to express what they feel can work best for them, and I believe that, if this approach is adopted by a number of donor organizations, I think it would be a good approach to enable to realize more benefit,” Baguma said.
Molly Mattessich, manager of online initiatives for the National Peace Corps Association, said her organization has been impressed by the quality of ideas coming from Africa.
“We think we’ve created a platform for people living in rural Africa to collaborate with Peace Corps volunteers with different organizations from different countries to develop some of the best ideas. So, we are very proud of giving a voice to people who previously did not have a place to post their ideas,” Mattessich said.
She said the National Peace Corps Association will continue to maintain the website, www.AfricaRuralConnect.org for people to continue posting their ideas and contacting other potential organizations.